What Does Gary Condit Know?

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For more than a month, Washington has been intrigued by two missing persons. First came the Missing Intern, Chandra Levy, 24, last seen April 30, when she closed out her membership at a D.C. health club. She hasn't been heard from since she e-mailed her parents on May 1 about flights home for her graduation from the University of Southern California. When her parents couldn't reach her for five days, they called the D.C. police, who entered Chandra's Dupont Circle apartment on May 10. They found no signs of a struggle and everything in order--a packed suitcase, purse and credit cards, a fridge empty except for leftover pasta and a candy bar. Only her keys were missing. The door was locked, as if she had run out quickly.

As Chandra's mother tried to find her, she ended up talking to Washington's other missing person--the Disappearing Congressman. After getting hold of Chandra's cell-phone records in late May and seeing about 20 calls to the same number, Susan Levy dialed it, listened to the soft music and instructions to punch in her number. When she did, she says, she wasn't surprised that California Representative Gary Condit phoned back--she was almost certain his relationship with her daughter was more than professional. But Condit was surprised. They spoke briefly and awkwardly and haven't talked since. "I don't care who she was sleeping with," Susan Levy says. "I care where she is. I want him to tell us what he knows about her."

Condit slipped out of sight about May 10, avoiding reporters who had staked out his office and his apartment in the Adams-Morgan section of Washington, canceling a fund raiser and rushing off after accompanying President Bush to Sequoia National Park. The married Democrat, 53, has not said a word publicly but has issued written statements through his staff. In the first statement, Condit called Chandra a "good friend" (they had met when she came to visit a friend in his office shortly after she became an intern in the Justice Department's Bureau of Prisons) and pledged a $10,000 reward from his campaign treasury for her return. Since then his lawyer, Joe Cotchett, has fired off letters to the media demanding retractions of various stories. One reported that Chandra had told a close relative about an affair, another said Condit had admitted to police that Chandra had stayed overnight at his apartment, and a third took issue with a cropped photo. Condit's demands for retractions don't go to the heart of the allegations but only dwell on the edges; he doesn't deny that Chandra visited his apartment, only that he didn't tell police she did. So far, no one has retracted a word. During Cotchett's appearance on Good Morning America, he assured ABC's Claire Shipman that Chandra had not spent the night, but then added "If she [Chandra] spent the night she...spent it out on a couch somewhere...because [Condit's] wife was in Washington the entire period, the week [April 28 to May 2] that she's claimed to be missing." But who said that was the week in which Chandra stayed over?

Investigators have all but dismissed suicide or that she ran away (not for six weeks without a trace). Yet they have no evidence of foul play. If there's been a crime, it's a perfect one, so far.

After saying little publicly about Condit for a month, the Levys are now frantic. They believe investigators, obliged to follow special procedures when dealing with a member of Congress (will that be one pair of kid gloves or two?), may not have pressed Condit sufficiently. The police investigators keep telling the Levys to let them handle everything and not to interfere. But no longer. Susan Levy says, "They've been too slow on the uptake. They should have searched Condit's house." Feeling "powerless," the couple hired a Washington lawyer last Friday. "We're not used to playing with the big folks," Susan says, "but we're just as important as any politician."

Condit's hometown (and generally friendly) paper, the Modesto Bee, editorialized on June 8 that "five weeks of silence is enough." Condit "has a duty to publicly clarify his relationship with Levy," the paper said. During a meeting last Thursday, former Democratic Representative Vic Fazio urged Condit to answer questions from the local press.

To paraphrase former Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards, it takes being caught in bed with a dead girl or a live boy to get a politician in trouble, and that's doubly true in the Age of Monica. There's no evidence that Condit is connected with Chandra's disappearance, but there is a lot of evidence that he is connected to her. Once Chandra went missing, he had an obligation to tell everything he knew about her in a timely way. While the Levys are searching for the daughter they pray is still alive, Condit seems intent on searching for a way out of being embarrassed. A decent man would call the Levys. Their number is on his pager.